Peter Serafinowicz is a comedian, writer and actor, his CV spanning the sitcom Spaced, the spoof science programme Look Around You and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, for which he voiced Darth Maul. He's also rather big on Twitter. He’s appeared in Edge before, in E156’s roundtable discussion with Simon Pegg, Graham Linehan and Charlie Brooker – and, as we discover, he’s not sure much has changed in the intervening six years.
What is your earliest gaming memory?
My uncle was a huge influence on me – he was a kind of polymath, hugely clever, a talented painter and photographer and he was at the forefront of getting personal computers. The first thing I remember – at home, anyway – was him having a BBC Micro, playing a BASIC game called Kingdom. It was basically numbers on screen. I thought it was great, though.
He also took me to an arcade in Liverpool when I was about eight, and we played Spacewar! and I loved it. A little bit later, of course I remember Space Invaders, and I loved Pac-Man as well. Although – and this is a thing that's continued through my gaming life – I'm not very good at games. So with Pac-Man, then as now, I could still only clear the first level and then I would always get killed.
I loved Donkey Kong too, and remember one night my Mum tucking me in and I was describing the animation of Mario as he climbed up the ladder, he kind of bends over and his bum sticks out. It was a really nifty bit of animation. My Mum was probably like, "Go to sleep." It's funny though, I flash forward to now and I've got a boy who's four-and-a-half, and we play games together. The game that has really bonded us is Lego Star Wars.
You did voicework for that, didn't you?
I did, of Darth Maul, but I didn't specifically do it, they just took it from the film. So that's another zero dollars for me! Also that's kind of a weird thing to explain to a little kid. I do Driver Dan Story Train on Cbeebies, and it's like an animation storytelling thing for preschoolers, and Sam knows that I do the voice for that, but it's one thing explaining that but another thing when you can actually see there's a guy but there's my voice – I don't know if he understands.
Me and Sam have been playing Lego Star Wars and it really encourages you to just play and play and play. It's quite easy, but if you play it a lot you unlock loads of different characters. And I don't let him play a lot – I try and limit it to little treats for weekends or whatever – so I found a cheat that unlocked all the characters and Sam was so thrilled. The reason I remember it now is that as his mum was tucking him in, he was saying to her: "And Mama, Daddy unlocked all the characters, and it was just great! There was one guy, he had four lightsabers."
Growing up, what systems did you own?
The first thing I had was a Commodore Vic-20 – that had 3.5k of RAM! I suppose I always went for the underdogs – my mates had ZX Spectrums and I had a Vic-20. There were a couple of cartridge games that were pretty good, like a Galaxians clone, but even I knew then that it was very limited. Then I got an Atari 800, this beautifully designed, beige teletype machine with brown keys and orange function buttons down the side. That had some great games, but mainly they were ones for America – it wasn't supported very well over here, and I envied people that had Commodore 64s because that was like a next-gen machine compared to it.
I remember going round to my mates and playing Ghostbusters and that having speech synthesis in it and that was always a thing that blew me away, when they talked or had sound samples. I loved all that. I loved the original Star Wars sitdown arcade machine, which I still think is a great experience because vector graphics don't age – they've aged in a different way. I still get a shiver when I remember Obi-Wan saying: "Game over, the force will be with you, always."
When i was about 16 I had an Atari ST which was great, but really what I wanted was an Amiga. It was so musical, I loved that. My friend Russell had one and there was one game in particular that I loved the music so much, I went to his house and I remember taping the music as he played this game. It was a Cinemaware one called The King Of Chicago, it was actually a really good game but the music was this sort of 1920s jazz music but sort of computery and it's just beautiful. I still listen to it now, i don't think I've ever been able to find out who composed it. I wanted to get in touch with the guy and say I love your work, as you can do in this age of Twitter.